The Ethical Dimensions of

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Tolerance and Toleration

Toleration and tolerance are terms used in social, cultural and religious contexts to describe attitudes and practices that prohibit discrimination against those practices or group memberships that may be disapproved of by those in the majority. Conversely, intolerance may be used to refer to the discriminatory practices sought to be prohibited. Though developed to refer to the religious toleration of minority religious sects following the Protestant Reformation, these terms are increasingly used to refer to a wider range of tolerated practices and groups, such as the toleration of sexual practices and orientations, or of political parties or ideas widely considered objectionable.418

The principle of toleration is controversial. Liberal critics may see in it an inappropriate implication that the "tolerated" custom or behavior is an aberration or that authorities have a right to punish difference; such critics may instead emphasize notions such as civility or pluralism. Other critics, some sympathetic to traditional fundamentalism, condemn toleration as a form of moral relativism On the other hand, defenders of toleration may define it as involving positive regard for difference or, alternately, may regard a narrow definition of the term as more specific and useful than its proposed alternatives, since it does not require false expression of enthusiasm for groups or practices that are genuinely disapproved of.

Tolerance and Monotheism

One theory of the origin of religious intolerance, proposed by Sigmund Freud in Moses and Monotheism, links intolerance to monotheism.419 More recently, Bernard Lewis and Mark Cohen have argued that the modern understanding of tolerance, involving concepts of national identity and equal citizenship for persons of different religions, was not considered a value by pre-modern Muslims or Christians, due to the implications of monotheism. The historian G.R. Elton explains that in pre-Modern Times, monotheists viewed such toleration as a sign of weakness or even wickedness towards God. The usual definition of tolerance in pre-modern times as Bernard Lewis puts it was that: I am in charge. I will allow you some though not all of the rights and privileges that I enjoy, provided that you behave yourself according to rules that I will lie down and enforce”.420

Mark Cohen states that it seems that all the monotheistic religions in power throughout the history have felt it proper, if not obligatory, to persecute nonconforming religions. Therefore, Cohen concludes, Early Islam and Medieval Christianity in power should have persecuted non-believers in their lands and "Judaism, briefly in power during the Hasmonean period (2nd Century B.C.) should have persecuted pagan Idumeans…When all is said and done, however, the historical evidence indicates that the Jews of Islam, especially during the formative and classical centuries (up to thirteenth century), experienced much less persecution than did the Jews of Christendom. This begs a more thorough and nuanced explanation than has hitherto been given".421

Tolerating the Intolerant

Philosopher Karl Popper's assertion in The Open Society and Its Enemies that we are warranted in refusing to tolerate intolerance illustrates that there are limits to tolerance.

In particular, should a tolerant society tolerate intolerance? What if by tolerating action "A", society destroys itself? Tolerance of "A" could be used to introduce a new thought system leading to intolerance of vital institution "B". It is difficult to strike a balance and different societies do not always agree on the details, indeed different groups within a single society also often fail to agree. The current suppression of Nazism in Germany is considered intolerant by some countries, for instance, while in Germany itself it is Nazism which is considered intolerably intolerant.422

Philosopher John Rawls devotes a section of his influential and controversial book A Theory of Justice to the problem of whether a just society should or should not tolerate the intolerant, and to the related problem of whether or not, in any society, the intolerant have any right to complain when they are not tolerated.

Rawls concludes that a just society must be tolerant; therefore, the intolerant must be tolerated, for otherwise, the society would then be intolerant, and so unjust. However, Rawls qualifies this by insisting that society and its social institutions have a reasonable right of self-preservation that supersedes the principle of tolerance. Hence, the intolerant must be tolerated but only insofar as they do not endanger the tolerant society and its institutions.

Similarly, continues Rawls, while the intolerant might forfeit the right to complain when they are themselves not tolerated, other members of society have a right, perhaps even a duty, to complain on their behalf, again, as long as society itself is not endangered by these intolerant members. The ACLU is a good example of a social institution that protects the rights of the intolerant, as it frequently defends the right to free speech of such intolerant organizations as the Ku Klux Klan.423

Followers of Ayn Rand tend to see tolerance as associated with the institution of objective law.424 Attempts to increase tolerance by applying different rules to different people would ultimately be self defeating.

Many universities, in attempting to enforce certain political and ideological viewpoints through means other than instruction and debate have been come to be viewed by some as intolerant.

At a recent post-9/11 conference on multiculturalism in the United States, participants asked, "How can we be tolerant of those who are intolerant of us?" For many, tolerating intolerance is neither acceptable nor possible.425

Though tolerance may seem an impossible exercise in certain situations being tolerant nonetheless the key remains to easing hostile tensions between groups and to helping communities move past intractable conflict. That is because tolerance is integral to different groups relating to one another in a respectful and understanding way. In cases where communities have been deeply entrenched in violent conflict, being tolerant helps the affected groups endure the pain of the past and resolve their differences. In Rwanda, the Hutus and the Tutsis have tolerated a reconciliation process, which has helped them to work through their anger and resentment towards one another.

Origins and Consequences

In situations where conditions are economically depressed and politically charged, groups and individuals may find it hard to tolerate those that are different from them or have caused them harm. In such cases, discrimination, dehumanization, repression, and violence may occur. This can be seen in the context of Kosovo, where Kosovar Albanians, grappling with poverty and unemployment, needed a scapegoat, even supported an aggressive Serbian attack against neighboring Bosnian Muslim and Croatian neighbors.

Intolerance will drive groups apart, creating a sense of permanent separation between them. For example, though the laws of apartheid in South Africa were abolished a decade ago, there still exists a noticeable level of personal separation between black and white South Africans, as evidenced in studies on the levels of perceived social distance between the two groups. This continued racial division perpetuates the problems of inter-group resentment and hostility.

The perpetuation of Intolerance

Among Individuals: In the absence of their own experiences, individuals base their impressions and opinions of one another on assumptions. These assumptions can be influenced by the positive or negative beliefs of those who are either closest or most influential in their lives, including parents or other family members, colleagues, educators, and/or role models.

In the Media: Individual attitudes are influenced by the images of other groups in the media and the press. For instance, many Serbian communities believed that the western media portrayed a negative image of the Serbian people during the NATO bombing in Kosovo and Serbia. This de-humanization may have contributed to the West's willingness to bomb Serbia. However, there are studies that suggest media images may not influence individuals in all cases. For example, a study conducted on stereotypes discovered people of specific towns in southeastern Australia did not agree with the negative stereotypes of Muslims presented in the media.426

In the Educational System: School curricula and educational literature frequently provide biased and/or negative historical accounts of world cultures. Education or schooling based on myths can demonize and dehumanize other cultures rather than promote cultural understanding and a tolerance for diversity and differences.

Dealing with Intolerance

To encourage tolerance, parties to a conflict and third parties must remind themselves and others that tolerating tolerance is preferable to tolerating intolerance. Some useful strategies that may be used as tools to promote tolerance are as follows:

Inter-Group Contact: There is evidence that casual inter-group contact does not necessarily reduce inter-group tensions, and may in fact exacerbate existing animosities. However, through intimate inter-group contact, groups will base their opinions of one another on personal experiences, which can reduce prejudices. Intimate inter-group contact should be sustained over longer periods in order for it to be effective.

Dialogue: To enhance communication between both sides, dialogue mechanisms such as dialogue groups or problem solving workshops provide opportunities for both sides to express their needs and interests. In such cases, actors engaged in the workshops or similar forums feel their concerns have been heard and recognized. Restorative justice programs such as victim-offender mediation provide this kind of opportunity. For instance, through victim-offender mediation, victims can ask for an apology from the offender.

The role of the individual

Individuals should continually focus on being tolerant of others in their daily lives. This involves consciously challenging the stereotypes and assumptions that they typically encounter in making decisions about others and/or working with others in either a social or a professional environment.

The role of the media

The media should use positive images to promote understanding and cultural sensitivity. The more groups and individuals are exposed to positive media messages about other cultures, the less they are likely to find faults with one another particularly those communities who have little access to the outside world and are susceptible to what the media tells them.

This is particularly important in an age when television plays such a pervasive influence in forming our opinions. This is partly due to the power of the medium itself, and partly due to the growing intellectual laziness of the public, and its willingness to base opinions on “instant” news and catchy sound-bytes.

The role of the educational system

Educators are instrumental in promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence. For instance, schools that create a tolerant environment help young people respect and understand different cultures. In Israel, an Arab and Israeli community called Neve Shalom or Wahat Al-Salam ("Oasis of Peace") created a school designed to support inter-cultural understanding by providing children between the 1st and 6th grades the opportunity to learn and grow together in a tolerant environment.427

Similar initiatives are espoused in Seeds of Peace428, now part of the educational system in several universities, and elsewhere.

The role of other third parties

Conflict transformational NGOs and other actors in the field of peace-building can offer mechanisms such as training programs to help parties in a conflict to communicate with one another. For instance, several organizations have launched a series of projects in Macedonia that aim to reduce tensions between the Albanian, Romani and Macedonian populations in the country, including activities that promote democracy, ethnic tolerance, and respect for human rights.

International organizations need to find ways to enshrine the principles of tolerance in policy. For instance, the United Nations has already created The Declaration of Moral Principles on Tolerance, adopted and signed in Paris by UNESCO's 185 member states in November 1995, which qualifies tolerance as a moral, political, and legal requirement for individuals, groups, and states.429

Governments also should aim to institutionalize policies of tolerance. For example, in South Africa, the Education Ministry has advocated the integration of a public school tolerance curriculum into the classroom; the curriculum promotes a holistic approach to learning. The United States government has recognized one week a year as International Education Week, encouraging schools, organizations, institutions, and individuals to engage in projects and exchanges to heighten global awareness of cultural differences.

The diaspora community can also play an important role in promoting and sustaining tolerance. They can provide resources to ease tensions and affect institutional policies in a positive way. For example, Jewish, Irish, and Islamic communities have contributed to the peace building effort within their places of origin from their places of residence in the United States.


In conclusion, one can thus state that, even though the de facto powers may wish to maintain their own societies at a level of high intolerance for their own benefits430, global human society can nevertheless build, develop and preserve tolerance by understanding the importance of the following elements:

Democracy: A democratic political system and a democratic economy go hand in hand with a democratic society. It is necessary to take fundamental political reforms aimed at finally realizing the full democratic promise of peoples, including: easy access to the state structure and its services; equal access to educational and social benefits; equal access to information; equal access to the law; proportional representation in the legislative bodies and government; among others.

Human Rights: We have to support basic rights for all peoples, including the indigenous and native nations, handicapped persons, as well as affirmative action and reparations for people of color, women and other victims of historic injustice and oppression. We have to oppose the repression directed against immigrants, particularly economic immigrants. We have to oppose to all forms of discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, age, class, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disabilities, health status (including HIV), national origin or citizenship. Likewise, we have to support full reproductive freedoms for women and oppose all forms of violence, particularly against women and children, including domestic violence, rape, incest and sexual harassment.

Equal justice: We have to oppose the deep-seated racism and class bias that permeate our so-called "judicial system". It is necessary to create a crash program to re-train and re-structure civil security institutions that, in a great majority of countries, are steeped in a culture of racism, abuse, corruption and brutality. Society needs to develop a humane criminal sanction system that is genuinely aimed at the rehabilitation of those who have engaged in anti-social activity, and which depends on alternatives to incarceration except for those who pose a clear danger to society unless incarcerated.

Support for Diversity and Equality: People of color and women must be substantial in numbers in the membership and particularly in leadership positions in our independent political networks. Opposition to racism must be a priority for all people but especially for the majority group of the society. Men have a special responsibility to cultivate positive environment for participation by those of all abilities, sizes, ages, and genders.

Political independence: We have to promote independent candidates and parties who subscribe to the above principles and who are part of the solution. In order to get a better global society, we have to promote and support solidarity across our countries, and beyond our geopolitical borders.

People's power: We have to find and support the power to change our world and develop a society that places human needs over profit. People organized into democratically controlled organizations and institutions are the wellspring from which a powerful movement for social and economic change must emerge. It is from the experience and struggles of the people that solutions to the severe crises facing our nations will be found. It is with the consent and will of the people that governments are legitimized and leaders empowered.

Economic justice: Only through such a social movement can we build a just and sustainable society in which the gross and obscene concentration of corporate power and personal wealth is overcome by the achievement of basic political and economic rights for all: equality and tolerance; secure jobs at living wages; decent and affordable housing; adequate food and clothing; universal health care; quality education; a safe, clean environment; an equitable, progressive tax system; sustainable food production based upon family farms and farm cooperatives; and protection from economic insecurity caused by disability, old age, sickness, accident or unemployment.

Sustainable environment: An ecologically sustainable society requires replacing the endless "growth" compelled by a profit-oriented society with a democratic economy enabling people to gear production to human needs on a sustainable basis.

All this requires the sustained tolerance of and respect for the opinions of the “other”, as has been ingrained into us by the history of thousands of years of our spiritual and intellectual development. That attitude, and that attitude alone can guarantee the fundamental ethical dimensions of human rights towards which we must all strive.

1 Louis Henkin, The International Bill of Rights: The Universal Declaration and the Covenants, in International Enforcement of Human Rights 6-9, Bernhardt and Jolowicz, eds, (1987)

2 See Louis Henkin, Introduction, The International Bill of Rights 9-10 (1981).


4 #Convention_Provisions







9 Eleanor Roosevelt, first chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that drafted the Declaration, [9] 10 December 1948.

10 Former US President Ronald Reagan (March 1989, US Department of State Bulletin) .

11 See Fujii v. State 38 Cal.2d 718, 242 P.2d 617 (1952); also see Buell v. Mitchell 274 F.3d 337 (6th Cir., 2001) (discussing ICCPR’s relationship to death penalty cases).




15 .Ladan Rahmani-Ocora, "Giving the Emperor Real Clothes: The UN Human Rights Council," Global Governance 12, no. 1 (2006).

16 ibid

17 Hilary Poole, ed., Human Rights: The Essential Reference (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1999.


19 Yvonne Terlingen, "The Human Rights Council: A New Era in UN Human Rights Work" Ethics & International Affairs 21, no. 2 (2007).

20 Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Mr. Olivier De Schutter 22 May,2008 and Solution to food crisis must address inequalities – UN Human Rights Chief 22 May,2008

21 What are Human Rights?

22 Development – Right to Development

23 The Right to Development as a Human Right, Arjun Sengupta (paper written at the François Xavier Bagmoud Center for Health and Human Rights Harvard School of Health in Dec 1999. “The consensus over the unity of civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights was broken in the Fifties, with the spread of the Cold War. Two separate covenants, one covering civil and political rights and another covering economic, social and cultural rights, were promulgated to give them the status of international treaties in the late Sixties, and both came into force in the late Seventies. It took many years of international deliberations and negotiations for the world community to get back to the original conception of integrated and indivisible human rights. The Declaration on the Right to Development was the result”. However the single dissenting vote of the US set back the process by several years, during which the international community could have tried to translate such a RTD into a reality.

24 The Working Group

25 The Right to Development – where do we stand?

26 The High Level Taskforce

27 ibid

28 The Right to Food

29 ibid.

30 The Right to Adequate Food and Food Security , Mark J. Cohen

31 World Food Crisis Statement, ECOSOC Meeting 20 May,2008 Para 13

32 Report of the Inter Governmental Working Group for elaboration of the set of Voluntary Guidelines to support the progressive realization of the Right to adequate food in the context of national food security, September 2004

33 H,E, Mrs. Asha-Rose Migiro UN Deputy Secretary General opening statement at ECOSOC Food Crisis Meeting 20 May,2008

34 Analysis of the World Food Crisis by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, May 2 2008 p 5

35 Poverty Analysis using an international cross-country Demand System Cranfield, Preckel and Hertel 2007, Policy Research Working Paper Series 4285. World Bank

36 The World Food Crisis – Para. 3, Statement from 40th Session Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights 28 April – 16 May,2008 E/c.12/2008/1

37 Soaring Food Prices: Facts ,Perspectives, Impacts and Actions Required FAO Rome 3-5 June 2008 HLC/08/INF/1

38 Interesting is the Cost of Production Theory of Value the Polish economist Michał Kalecki where he distinguished between sectors with "cost-determined prices’ (such as manufacturing and services) and those with "demand-determined prices’ (such as agriculture and raw material extraction).

39 High Food Prices: The What,Who, and How of Proposed Policy Actions, May 2008 Joachim von Braun et al

40 ibid, Soaring Food Prices: Facts ,Perspectives, Impacts and Actions Required, p4

41 Pacific Island countries staples are various types of yam, taro, manioc and kumara although in some cases urbanization has seen tastes change to rice as a staple.

42 Double, double oil and trouble, The Economist, May 29th, 2008

43 The eight MDGs break down into 21 quantifiable targets that are measured by 60 indicators.

44 High Food Prices: Impact and Recommendations, Paper prepared by FAO, IFAD and WFP for ECOSOC Food Crisis Meeting 20 May 2008

45 ibid Segupta p9

46 New International Economic Order (NIEO) A set of demands formulated by a group of Third World countries at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1974. The NIEO envisaged a restructuring of the present international economic system to improve the position of the Developing countries (the South) with respect to the advanced industrialized countries (the North). The demands included increased control by developing countries over their own resources, the promotion of Industrialization, an increase in development assistance, and alleviation of debt problems. While the demand for an NIEO was in part a reflection of frustration at the inability to break out of the cycle of underdevelopment, it also drew inspiration from the experience of OPEC in successfully raising world energy prices. By the 1990s the NIEO had not materialized, having met the joint obstacles of Western resistance, and lack of commitment and support from the developing countries themselves.

47 ibid Segupta p9

48 ibid Segupta p13

49 Definition of Neo Liberalism

50 Globalization and its Discontents, Joseph Stiglitz,W.W.Norton and Company 2002 p74

51 ibid Stiglitz 2002 p74

52 Asia’s rich and poor, The Economist, August 9th 2007- The Article concluded that the Asian levels of income inequality was fast approaching that of Latin America,

53 ibid Chossudovsky p177

54 ibid Chossudovsky p108

55FAO Director General Diouf at Opening of High Level Rome Summit 3-5 June 2008

56 Rome Declaration and World Food Summit Plan of Action, 1996

57 ibid. de Schutter May 2, 2008

58 862 million out of world population of 6.6 billion

59Riots Instability spread as Food Prices rocketed

60 Food Riots turn deadly in Haiti April 5, 2008

61Ban Ki Moon hails $500million offer by Saudi Arabia

62 Global: USAID reviews food aid as prices, 25th March 2008 “American legislation requires that food is bought in America and that 50 percent of commodities be processed and packed before shipment; and that 75 percent of food aid managed by USAID, and 50 percent of the food aid managed by the US Department of Agriculture, be transported in "flag-carrying" US-registered vessels.

63 ibid De Schutter 22 May,2008 p2

64 ibid Soaring Food Prices: Facts ,Perspectives, Impacts and Actions Required p7

65 Only at few green shoots The Economist 7-13th June,2008 p70

66 Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen, Anchor Books, 2000 p161

67 ibid Sen, 2000 p177

68 HRC opens special session on world food crisis,22 May,2008 – Press Release

69 About FAO

70About WFP

71 About IFAD

72 The Social Basis of International Cooperation, J Mohan Rao, 1999 International Social Science Journal p 586

73 The World Trade Organization conducts negotiations through what is called rounds. The Doha Development Round commenced at Doha, Qatar in November 2001 and is still continuing. Its objective is to lower trade barriers around the world, permitting free trade between countries of varying prosperity. As of 2008, talks have stalled over a divide between the developed nations led by the European Union, the United States and Japan and the major developing countries (represented by the G20 developing nations), led and represented mainly by India, Brazil, China and South Africa.

74 2006 Farm Subsidies, EWG Environmental Working Group

75 The Farm Bill – A Harvest Disgrace, The Economist 22 May 2008

76 IMF Cure for Food Crisis and Cause, Emad McKay TERRAWIRE – 21 May,2008

77 A 10-point plan for the food crisis, Robert Zoellick, Financial Times 30,May 2008

78What is the Commonwealth? The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent sovereign states consulting and co-operating in the common interests of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace. The association has no constitution or charter, but members commit themselves to the statements of beliefs set out by Heads of Government. The basis of these is the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles, agreed at Singapore in 1971, and reaffirmed in the Harare Declaration of 1991. The fundamental political values underpinning the Commonwealth include democracy and good governance, respect for human rights and gender equality, the rule of law, and sustainable economic and social development.

79 New Generation of International Institutions Needed , 10 June 2008

80 Marlborough House Statement on Reform of International Institutions, 10th June 2008 onreformofinternationalinstutitions.pdf

81 According to Spencer Wells.

82 Shostak 1983.

83 Government of Botswana Web Site.

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